The “Can do” Myth VS “Would do” reality

The debate about Confidence or Competence, apparently, is not new. However, we seem to get lost in translation time and again. While, both are essential, but what precedes the other remains shrouded as much in the results we get, as in the  explanations we give. My purpose here is not to glorify one at the expense of other, but to put both in perspective.

We have been told (perhaps always) to “Be Confident…..”. This happens when we are going for an exam, giving a presentation, going for an interview or starting a new career or assignment. We are always told “Be Confident”. No one told us “Be Competent”……or may be this is always assumed that we will “be Competent”, however, looking at the results around us it only seems an “over confident” assumption.

In the book, “Why do many incompetent men become Leaders – (and how to fix it) Tomas Chamorro, bursts many myths. However, let us focus on one which seems very close to what we fall for, almost daily.

He writes and i quote “When Roger Federer, arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time, won his eighth Wimbledon title, he was asked by a BBC reporter to reveal the secret of his success. Federer’s response? …. He believed in himself, and then he won. Really? Could it not be that his outstanding and exhaustively honed tennis skills played at least some role? To be sure, there is no shortage of people with Federer-esque confidence, but they tend to lack the talent(competence) to back it up. Federer’s achievements are unusual because of his talents (competence in the field), not because of his confidence. If I had to choose, I would rather have Federer’s talents (competence) than his confidence, not least because talents (competence) lead to confidence more than vice versa”.

Here Tomas used the word Talent, but i have used the word competence. I learned that talent is gifted, yet competence is earned. Anyways, though in the book there is no reference of the Squash legend Jehangir Khan, but his winning of 555 matches continuously (i.e. remaining unbeatable for around 5 years for even a single game) is still a record even after little over 30 years of his retirement. Jehangir Khan would also have said confidence and self belief (out of his humbleness perhaps) but that was backed up by around 12 hours of daily hard physical training process. This hard and years of training process was building his competence and then his confidence in the game.

In our organization we regularly entertain confidence more than competence and later understand that it was only a boastful showmanship (either in person or on resume or on LinkedIn posts, or on Youtube video) that blinded us towards hiring, borrowing or contracting so and so person. In fact the person is not as competent as is shown by his claims. Someone who is louder, social and always knocking on our digital timeline is the one who comes across as more confident and “apparently” more authentic. It only dawns on us later about the competence of the person.

There is another myth propagated in the recent past about the worth of attaining degrees/certificates, studying theoretical framework and developing intellectual depth against the JUST DO IT, JUST STEP IN, Go Get ITish process. Though there is nothing bad in Just Doing it and motivational speakers quote many successful and useful examples too, yet in the absence of a depth of competency and conceptual background, many listeners/viewers (specially already frustrated ones) get either momentarily excited or become permanently slaved of such talks and (daily) doze of the motivational speaker. There is an old saying “Empty Vessel makes the louder sound” (Khali burtan ziada shoor machata hai).

The phenomenon was also reflected in a study which was later known as Dunning Kruger effect. The initial study was published by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999. There study suggested that it is people’s cognitive bias, in which people with limited competence in a particular domain overestimate their abilities. This bias prompts people to construct their own subjective reality without any objective input and this dictates their behaviors. In the absence of deep knowledge and competence about any given subject or profession and in the presence of pressure to “show off”,  “go get it” and “just do it” and “face the competition” the result is over confidence that may not be sustainable for a very long time. Leaders, politicians, trainers, sales people and in fact all of us fall for this at one or the other time.    

While having a good degree of confidence is a great thing to have, yet without competence in the field it may be a “one minute to fame” thing but can be destructive in the long run. Just imagine if you want to get a tooth extracted or get a heart surgery done or want to travel in a aeroplane ….whom you would let this task handle…..One who is yelling Confidently and claiming “I can do it”……or one who is “actually” competent and “would do it”. Make the choice wisely.